Others Will Not Approve. Carry On Without Approval.

The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (Part 5)

The approval of our peers is something we have a natural tendency to desire.  And our society seems to continually reinforce the message that the most important thing in the world is to elevate your status and thereby to win the begrudging respect of others. The problem is that since we cannot control how others view us, to see approval as something we MUST have will lead to misery. More than that, it is simply not possible to make everyone happy. Every goal that you complete in your life will carry the risk of making someone, somewhere unhappy with you.

Living to please others, or living to win admiration, is not the path to a satisfying life. It is, rather a way to feel perpetually uneasy with your standing. After all, if you must be admired by others to attain your worth, your worth will always depend on their whims. This is hardly the stable ground to build your identity upon.

You were not put on this earth to win universal admiration. You can live well even if others do not approve of you. In fact, in order to live the best life you can—in order to be true to your values and sincerely pursue your goals, it may be necessary to lose the approval of some people. But rejection doesn’t kill us—particularly if we are being rejected for something we believe in.

One particularly damaging arrangement is to believe that not only do you require admiration but that you require a specific person to admire (need, desire, love) you.  How much collective heartache do humans experience the world over from the belief that one specific person’s love is their unique opportunity for happiness?

In a Nutshell: It’s just not true that it is mandatory to be admired. Some people are not going to like you, and they don’t even need a good reason for it. And while it is natural and often sensible to prefer to be liked and admired, it is never mandatory. Your worth as a person is not based on the views others take of you.

HOW TO USE THIS IDEA:

When you find yourself smarting from some real (or imagined) rejection, say to yourself, “I’m disappointed. I would have preferred others to approve of me…but this is not a catastrophe. I can live with this rejection. I do not NEED approval. My worth is not tied to what other people think of me.”

THE FINE PRINT:

Now this doesn’t mean that you should purposefully behave in a way that others will find despicable. This isn’t an excuse to be a hermit, a miscreant, an internet troll, or a recluse. It is healthy to have friends and loving relationships. It is also healthy to be respectful of others, even when you are not doing what they would wish you to do. But if living according to your values results in others rejecting you, or if there is nothing you could have done to win their admiration, then you should accept that they do not HAVE TO admire you (even though you would have preferred that they did), that you do not NEED admiration, and that you will be OK without it (even if it is disappointing).

WHAT THIS WILL HELP YOU AVOID:

Leaving behind the notion that others must approve of you will go a long way to reducing social anxiety and the paralysis that comes with it. Needing approval limits our ability to interact with others (or to be our authentic self in their presence).

WHAT THIS IDEA WILL HELP YOU GAIN:

Needing approval leads to stagnation—particularly because not everyone values the things you do. Not everyone will approve of you reaching your goals. So achieving self-assuredness will help you gain a sense of meaning in your life because it will allow you to live according to your own values—not the values of others.

THE SOURCE OF THIS IDEA: 

In Stoic Philosophy the admiration of others, even the love of your spouse is seen as a “Preferred Indifferent” meaning that it is something we are right to prefer. But it is not innately a good (or necessary) thing because only those things that are up to us, can be good. Because we cannot control what others think of us, it is not required for our virtue. This idea is echoed in the psychotherapy of REBT created by Albert Ellis who cited the irrational belief that we must be loved as a source of much human misery.

Next: People Suck Sometimes. Accept them Anyway.

The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (So Far)

Idea #11: You Can Do Good Work or Seek Perfection, But You Can’t Do Both

Idea #10: Your Path Will Not Be Easy. But Ease is Not Required.

Idea #9: Emotions are not your guide. Without reason they will lead you astray

Idea #8: You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings.

Idea #7: Whenever it seems that other’s must change, accept that they don’t.

Idea #6: People Suck Sometimes. Accept Them Anyway.

Idea #5: Others will not approve. Carry on without approval.

Idea #4: The world is unjust. Live there anyway.

Idea#3: To live is to confront adversity. But to be alive is to have limitless resilience. 

Idea#2: Life is risky. Live anyway.

Idea#1: Be curious. Learn what you can, but hold lightly to your truths.

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Your Path Will Not Be Easy. But Ease Is Not Required.

Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (Part 10)

Everything worth doing is worth putting effort into. We know this. But despite this awareness, there is often a lingering childishness in us, demanding that our path should be easy, that we should not have to work hard, and that we should never be uncomfortable. But a life lived according to your values will never be completely comfortable. Learning to tolerate the discomfort of effort is an important part of achieving your goals and fulfilling your potential.

The good news is that the more you put effort into your goals, the easier putting in effort becomes. It’s as if when we use effort to do good work, we get a discount on any future effort we put forth. For example, if you imagine a day where you have been very lazy, haven’t gotten off the couch and haven’t done anything difficult at all, how hard would it then be to do a chore like cook a meal, wash some dishes or do a load of laundry? You certainly could do it, but it would be difficult. In comparison to your lazy day, it would seem to be a high-effort task. Now imagine a day where you have been very productive and have already done several difficult things. How much effort would it take to put on that same load of laundry? Hardly any at all. That is the nature of effort. The extent to which effort is unpleasant varies greatly. But one sure way to make effort much more unpleasant and “expensive” is to tell yourself that you can’t tolerate it, or worse, that you shouldn’t have to.

In a Nutshell:

Life will present us with no shortage of situations where we will be uncomfortable, particularly when we are working towards our goals—and especially when those goals involve not giving in to harmful urges. But being uncomfortable does not harm us. We can put in the effort. We can accomplish our goals and live according to our values despite discomfort.

How to Use This Idea:

Be on the lookout for thoughts that tell you that you shouldn’t be uncomfortable, that something is too hard (when you know it’s not), and that you can’t put in the effort to do something important. Whenever you find these thoughts, question them and push back against them. Say to yourself, “Ok. This will make me uncomfortable. This is difficult.” But then ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? What is my goal? How important is that goal to me?” Remind yourself that you can tolerate being uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is not going to harm you.

The Fine Print:

Please don’t take this as an instruction to work hard just for the sake of working hard. The point is to do what is important to you—to get something worthwhile out of your efforts. Don’t be cruel with yourself. Don’t expect yourself to put in Herculean efforts. If you can, routinely put in a modest amount of effort. Don’t feel like you need to always take the more difficult road just because it is difficult. Shortcuts are not always bad ideas if they really do bring you to the same place. Don’t treat being uncomfortable as a goal unto itself. When you tolerate discomfort you should know what purpose it serves.

What This Will Help You Avoid:

This idea will help you avoid stagnation—especially the stagnation that comes from not working on your goals. If you can only do what comes easily, you will rarely achieve anything. If you rule out any course of action that requires effort or discomfort you will probably rule out the best option you have. And if you give into every urge that surfaces (because resisting it is uncomfortable) your life will very quickly become a downward spiral of misery.

What This Will Help You Gain:

Discipline. Whether we are doing our job, eating right, exercising, acting morally, or accomplishing your goals, discipline will be required. We build discipline only by deciding to do difficult, uncomfortable things even though it would be easier (in the short term) not to do them. We need to remind ourselves that these acts will serve us well, in the long run, acknowledge the discomfort, and do them anyway.

The Source of this Idea:

This post is a synthesis of many ideas. The discussion of self-discipline is inspired by Stoic philosophy. Albert Ellis’s (REBT-related) concept of Frustration Intolerance has certainly contributed to my thinking. And the experimental psychology concept of Learned Industriousness, Associated with Robert Eisenberger (and which my dissertation dealt with) is relevant as well.

Next: You Can Do Good Work Or Seek Perfection. But You Can’t Do Both

The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (So Far)

Idea #11: You Can Do Good Work or Seek Perfection, But You Can’t Do Both

Idea #10: Your Path Will Not Be Easy. But Ease is Not Required.

Idea #9: Emotions are not your guide. Without reason they will lead you astray

Idea #8: You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings.

Idea #7: Whenever it seems that other’s must change, accept that they don’t.

Idea #6: People Suck Sometimes. Accept Them Anyway.

Idea #5: Others will not approve. Carry on without approval.

Idea #4: The world is unjust. Live there anyway.

Idea#3: To live is to confront adversity. But to be alive is to have limitless resilience. 

Idea#2: Life is risky. Live anyway.

Idea#1: Be curious. Learn what you can, but hold lightly to your truths.

Grounding

Here is an excerpt from my book on Coping Skills.  Grounding is one of the easiest coping skills to use.  In as little as 30 seconds you can completely change the way you are thinking. Grounding is like Control-Alt-Delete for your mind.  Give it a try!

Effectiveness: 2017-07-19 10.44.03 pm

Difficulty: Easy

Use In Response To: Anger, Anxiety, or Urges.

 

Basic Idea: Pay more attention to the information coming from your five senses so as to distract yourself from unwanted thoughts and negative emotions.

Description: A person who is upset will often be focused on their thoughts and emotions. It is as if our focus can either be tuned out toward the external world or inward to the internal world. When we experience anxiety, anger, or negative self-talk, our focus is locked onto the inner world, and to the extent that we are focused on those things, we are less focused on the real world around us.

Grounding is a way to bring your attention back to reality, so called because it “grounds” you to where you really are. If we can bring our focus to the world around us, we will be less affected by the negative thoughts and emotions occurring in our minds. One way to accomplish Grounding is with a game called the “5-4-3-2-1 Game.” Here is how it works:

  1. Notice five things that you can see from where you are at the moment. You can pick any five things, or you can use criteria such as looking for the five most interesting things, the five most colorful things, or the five things that you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t paying very close attention to the world. Notice that while you are scanning for these things, you are far less likely to be distracted by other thoughts.
  2. Notice four things that you hear. This might not come easily, but that is the point. If you can’t hear four things immediately you might need to be patient or strain a bit to notice them.
  3. Notice three things that you feel with your skin. The obvious choices are to touch the chair you’re sitting in, the surface of a table, or the fabric of your clothing. Feel free to be creative. For example, what does the inside of your sock feel like to your foot? How does the back of your shirt feel against your neck? Notice that these sensations were there all along, but you weren’t paying attention to them.
  4. Smell two nearby objects (you might need to bring the objects to your nose).
  5. Taste a little bit of food or drink; for example, take a sip of water or bite into an apple. Alternatively, if there is nothing immediately available to taste, take one deep breath. Breathe out and notice the relief you feel.

To learn more easy to use Coping Skills, check out the Invisible Toolbox.

Emotions Are Not Your Guide. Without Reason They Will Lead You Astray.

Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (Part 9)

Buried within many self-help and spiritual writings is a curious and subtle message: Your emotions should be a source of wisdom. We should do what our heart tells us, follow our gut, and not over-think things. But emotions can lead people astray in very dangerous ways. Anger can lead to our destroying what we love. Fear can lead to avoidance of meaningful parts of life. Seeking euphoric joy can lead to the slavery of substance abuse. Depression can lead to a downward spiral of withdrawal and inactivity.

Biology tells us that emotions are an ancient system based on brain structures that we share with many other creatures—even reptiles. I don’t know about you, but I would not be content with the wisdom of an alligator. Humans have the capacity for more because we are capable of developing reason. The wise person may take their emotions into account, but emotions themselves are not a source of wisdom.

Emotions and thoughts are not as separate as we might think. Our thoughts shape and alter our emotions. When our thoughts are not reasonable—when they are overly demanding, illogical, and underestimate our resilience they will distort our emotions, sometimes twisting a healthy emotional response into something that feels overwhelming and seems grotesque. But once you accept that through your beliefs (or what you are telling yourself at any given moment) you can change the nature of what you feel, then something amazing happens. Your emotions can change. Unhealthy, destructive emotions can transform into the helpful, insightful, wise variety. This tells us something very important: We are largely responsible for how we feel.

This is the exact opposite message that we so often receive from others. We are often encouraged to believe that other people and other situations cause our emotions:

  • Someone disrespecting me=anger.
  • Winning the lottery=happiness.
  • The world is dangerous=anxiety.

If true, these “equations” would place our emotions out of our control. Reason tells us otherwise.  By changing the way we think we can help ourselves focus on what is under our control, and how we can be more effective.

In a Nutshell:

Emotions, by themselves, are not a source of wisdom. Because our beliefs shape our emotions, emotions can become unhealthy when the beliefs related to them are not shaped by reason. Fortunately, we can learn to apply reason to our thoughts, and in doing so, we can gain limited control over our emotional world.

How to Use This Idea:

When you are feeling a strong negative emotion, ask yourself, “What are I telling myself here?” Try to determine what the belief is that is driving the emotion.  Then ask yourself, what would the healthy version of this emotion be? Then try to identify what you could tell yourself instead that would lead to the healthier emotion. Here is a hint: the 12 helpful thinking styles in this series are examples of the kind of thinking that helps. I know all of this is far easier said than done, but this essentially is what learning about cognitive therapy (particularly Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) will help you do.

The Fine Print:

This idea does not mean that you should banish all emotions from your life. Emotions are necessary, and the lack of emotions doesn’t actually turn humans into super problem solvers (people who cannot experience emotions due to neurological deficits have significant difficulties in multiple areas of life). And while reasonable thoughts can change your emotions from the unhealthy variety to the healthy kind, healthy emotions are not always pleasant. Sometimes the “right” thing to feel is downright unpleasant. You will never have total control over your emotions. Some emotional reactions that are non-negotiable. But healthy emotions can be a source of insight. Healthy emotions might push us in the right direction. For example, concern might alert us to a risk we need to consider. Sadness might prompt us to accept a loss. Frustration can cue us in to our need to evaluate what we can change in a disadvantageous situation.

What This Will Help You Avoid:

This idea will help you avoid the extremes of unhealthy emotions including unhealthy anger, depression, envy, and anxiety.

What This Will Help You Gain:

Wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to solve  solve practical problems. Wisdom is diminished by excessive, unhealthy emotions.  Under the sway of such passions problem solving is impossible and we resort to crude, primitive, ineffective strategies. But when we can use reason to temper our emotions, effective solutions become easier to identify.

The Source of this Idea:

This idea draws heavily on Rational Emotive Behavior therapy (and in particular on the theory’s distinction between healthy and unhealthy emotions). This idea is also present in ancient Stoic philosophy in which the concept of the “passions” is analogous to what I have been referring to as unhealthy negative emotions.  This conceptualization also reflects from Marsha Linehan’s concept (in Dialectical Behavior Therapy) of the “wisemind”, which is a type of thinking that combines the “emotion mind” and “reason mind.”

Next: Your Path Will Not Be Easy. But Ease is Not Required. 

 

The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (So Far)

Idea #11: You Can Do Good Work or Seek Perfection, But You Can’t Do Both

Idea #10: Your Path Will Not Be Easy. But Ease is Not Required.

Idea #9: Emotions are not your guide. Without reason they will lead you astray

Idea #8: You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings.

Idea #7: Whenever it seems that other’s must change, accept that they don’t.

Idea #6: People Suck Sometimes. Accept Them Anyway.

Idea #5: Others will not approve. Carry on without approval.

Idea #4: The world is unjust. Live there anyway.

Idea#3: To live is to confront adversity. But to be alive is to have limitless resilience. 

Idea#2: Life is risky. Live anyway.

Idea#1: Be curious. Learn what you can, but hold lightly to your truths.

You Are Not Your Thoughts. You Are Not Your Feelings. 

Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (Part 8)

As we go about our lives, we have a front row seat to a rather curious spectacle—the pageant of our thoughts and our emotions.  Sometimes our thoughts are noble, inspired, optimistic and reasonable. Sometimes we feel joyful, proud, ecstatic, calm, curious, and pleasantly surprised. But these positive slices of life often get far less time in center-stage than their negative counterparts. There are far more negative varieties of emotion than there are positive varieties (don’t take my word for it—try to name all the positive emotions you can and then all the negative emotions). And while many of our thoughts are helpful,  it is certainly easier to dwell on the negative ones.

Often, the solution provided to us is, simply, “Stop it,”  “Don’t feel that way,” or “Don’t think like that!” As if the world is collectively saying, “What’s wrong with you!  Feel happy and be positive!”  Even the people giving that advice secretly know that it’s not so easy.  You can’t control all of your thoughts and your emotions. Often trying to suppress them just makes them worse.

And while you can make efforts to change your beliefs, change your behavior, and correct some of your problematic thoughts, you are going to have to accept that some of your negative emotions are natural and that some of your unpleasant thoughts are unavoidable.

The solution to all of this is acceptance. Stop trying to force some program of censorship onto your thoughts, and instead to acknowledge that while your thoughts and feelings are part of your experience, they are not the most important piece. You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings. Your true identity can be found in the choices you make and the effect you have on others.

In a Nutshell:

Much of what occurs within the mind and body is beyond your control. Let your unwanted thoughts and feelings come and go.  Instead of battling with them, focus on the choices you have before you and the goals you want to work towards.

How to Use This Idea:

Notice your thoughts. Be aware of your feelings. But also foster your ability not to respond to every thought that occurs or every feeling you notice. Sometimes you can just allow your thoughts and feelings to pass like cars driving past your house.  They are there, but just because you notice them doesn’t mean you have to run after them. Similarly not every tiny feeling or sensation needs to dominate your experience. At each choice-point, try to live intentionally, by focusing on your goals and living according to your values—the things you do get a say in.

The Fine Print:

Feelings can be quite painful at times and thoughts can be fairly disruptive. It’s important to learn that you can allow your thoughts and feelings to be what they are, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also make use of coping skills—especially in response to emotions that are painful and overwhelming. Breathing exercises, grounding techniques, and self-soothing strategies can be useful for restoring balance.  To learn more about these techniques click here.

Also, while you can’t control all of the thoughts that pop into your mind, you can control what you believe. Beliefs can be changed with exploration, experimentation, learning, and consciously choosing more healthy, helpful or logical beliefs (such as occurs in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy). For example, you might have thoughts pop into your mind like, “I didn’t succeed at my goal. I am such a  loser.”  You can’t control whether or not this thought (and others like it) will occur to you. But this thought might be related to something you actually believe. Do you believe that not succeeding at a particular goal makes you a loser? If you do, you may be able to change this belief by making a conscious decision to adopt a different belief.

What This Will Help You Avoid:

You can use this belief to avoid obsessing on your thoughts and emotions, or falling into the trap of trying to wish them away and only making them stronger in turn. The real world is all around you and to the extent that you are tuned into your thoughts and emotions, you are not focused on reality.

What This Will Help You Gain:

Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a calm, curious, awareness of your situation—whether that is your mental situation or your surroundings in the real world. Mindfulness also requires an awareness of the actions you are taking.  To achieve this state your attitude towards your own mind must be nonjudgmental, allowing what goes on there to happen naturally.

Allowing your thoughts and emotions to be what they are will put you in a better position to see the world clearly.

The Source of this Idea:

Acceptance of thoughts and emotions has its roots in Buddhist thought, but in recent times it has been incorporated into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in the form of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) which includes a number of techniques to assist with the acceptance of thoughts and feelings while committing to living according to our values and achieving our goals.

Next: Emotions Are Not Your Guide. Without Reason They Will Lead You Astray. 

The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (So Far)

Idea #11: You Can Do Good Work or Seek Perfection, But You Can’t Do Both

Idea #10: Your Path Will Not Be Easy. But Ease is Not Required.

Idea #9: Emotions are not your guide. Without reason they will lead you astray

Idea #8: You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings.

Idea #7: Whenever it seems that other’s must change, accept that they don’t.

Idea #6: People Suck Sometimes. Accept Them Anyway.

Idea #5: Others will not approve. Carry on without approval.

Idea #4: The world is unjust. Live there anyway.

Idea#3: To live is to confront adversity. But to be alive is to have limitless resilience. 

Idea#2: Life is risky. Live anyway.

Idea#1: Be curious. Learn what you can, but hold lightly to your truths.

On Happiness

Happiness is an elusive goal. Our minds, simply put, did not evolve to be happy and at peace. Instead, they are worry machines, the by-product of thousands of years worth of survival of the most neurotic.
Happiness has many different meanings, so we should probably settle on one. Happiness does not mean non-stop joy and everlasting bliss. This is not a fairytale. By happiness, I mean a life of contentedness, and tranquility—what the ancient Greeks called Ataraxia. Happiness is the quality of a life lived in such a way that it is largely free of unhealthy negative emotions. Unhealthy negative emotions are rage, depression, anxiety and their like—the ones we associate with problems in mental health. The opposite of these are the healthy emotions—joy, sadness, grief, regret, frustration, concern. I know that might seem counter-intuitive but it is necessary to accept—the good life includes its share of sadness, disappointment, frustration, and grief. There is simply no way to lead a life absent of these (short of being hooked up to a perpetual euphoria machine that would over-stimulate your brain’s pleasure circuit until you starved to death). Anyone who is offering you a life a free of the full spectrum of emotions is either deceived or a charlatan trying to swindle you (and probably both).

So how do you do find this elusive state of unperturbed happiness? In short, you change the beliefs that that are creating the unhealthy negative emotions, replacing them with rational, healthy beliefs. Irrational beliefs are inflexible, dogmatic beliefs that get in the way of you living according to your values and reaching your goals.

Through the posts on this blog, I will walk you through many of the concepts required to do this. But you do not have to learn this from me. The way has been thoroughly explored. The best way to learn to remove unhealthy negative beliefs is to study a system of thought that has this as its aim.

The method that is most in line with what I will be posting is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. This school of psychotherapy, created by Albert Ellis, is the original form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Often referred to as CBT). This is a method for recognizing your irrational beliefs and replacing them with healthy beliefs. REBT suggests a number of healthy beliefs which will lead to improved happiness.

An alternate source of healthy, rational beliefs can come from ancient wisdom such as Stoic Philosophy (which is a was a major influence for Albert Ellis). In addition to Stoicism, Buddhism could be seen as another source of positive philosophical ideas. Both of these philosophies deal with mindfully behaving in positive, virtuous ways while accepting the things that are beyond your control.

The central idea of all of this is summed up in the words of a crippled Roman slave turned renowned philosopher. His name was Epictetus and his philosophy might be best summarized by his quote, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.”

This simple quote tells us that we can change our view of the world to be in line with happiness. And if that is true, then we are responsible for our own happiness—no one else. And that also means that no one can take it away from us.

Whenever It Seems That Others Must Change, Accept That They Don’t.

Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (Part 7)

Humans naturally pay attention to what the people around them do and judging what they see quickly follows. Our minds promptly tell us what others should and must do—how they absolutely need to change.

This, inevitably, leads to problems because others are free to do as they wish. They simply don’t have to comply with our demands. People can choose to do what we see as poor behavior, mistakes, and even immoral and illegal acts. Of course, this behavior can carry steep consequences, but even so, this does not mean that they must not have chosen it.

People generally do what they believe to be the right thing for them. From their point of view, their behavior is acceptable—and while we may not agree with their “logic”, it is a losing battle to insist that they should see the world the way we see it.

Another way to phrase this is to accept that there are no absolute “should’s” or rules that people must live by. People are not trains on tracks that must go where they have been compelled to go. Even if you believe in a religious doctrine that includes strict laws of behavior, people still have the option not follow them.

Often, in our anger, we might wish to punish people ourselves for their not behaving as we dictate—as if we are angry gods who can smite and damn the wayward mortals. But this arrogance will, in the end, cost us much, and change others little.

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The only sensible solution is acceptance of the other—to allow them to be who they are, even if we disapprove of what they are doing. Acceptance will end the little war your mind is waging in a futile attempt to change what cannot be changed.

How to Use This Idea:

When you are angry at (or hurt by, or disappointed in…) someone, evaluate your thoughts and beliefs about the person. What are you demanding to be different about them? Whatever it is, let it go. Accept that they are who they are and that they do not have to change. Once you accept that, dealing with them will be far easier. You will be more effective doing so because you have already made your peace with the fact that they may not change.

The Fine Print:

This does not mean that you shouldn’t seek to influence others for the better when you can. There are some circumstances when we are able to have a powerful influence on others. Particularly when we are in positions of leadership and authority (such as a being a parent, teacher, boss, governor, prison warden, or emperor). But even in these cases, you would be better of accepting that others have free will.

Also, I do not mean to imply that acceptance of others is an easy task. This is not an immediate process. Acceptance always takes practice to become aware of your thoughts, noticing your demands, and gently reminding yourself of what is and what is not up to you.

What This Will Help You Avoid:

Anger. This idea will help you avoid the futility of trying to change what you cannot and the bitter resentment that follows. that will come with anger. If you allow yourself to damn others and insist that they be different than they are, you are the one who will suffer. The anger will eat away at you and you will find that others are less and less motivated to seek out a connection with you. This, in turn, could lead to even more anger, and a downward spiral can begin.

What This Will Help You Gain:

Tranquility. Acceptance of others will help you find peace of mind. Nothing is more disturbing than demanding that someone else or some aspect of the world be different. Allowing it to be as it is will preserve your energy for those things that you can change.

The Source of this Idea:

This idea comes pretty much straight out of Albert Ellis’s writings relating to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Ellis discussed two irrational beliefs that result in much human suffering: Demandingness or the belief that the world and the people in it must be what we decide that they should or must be, and the idea that Conditional ratings of the Self (and Others) lead to disturbed emotions.

Next: You Are Not Your Thoughts. You Are Not Your Feelings.

The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (So Far)

Idea #11: You Can Do Good Work or Seek Perfection, But You Can’t Do Both

Idea #10: Your Path Will Not Be Easy. But Ease is Not Required.

Idea #9: Emotions are not your guide. Without reason they will lead you astray

Idea #8: You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings.

Idea #7: Whenever it seems that other’s must change, accept that they don’t.

Idea #6: People Suck Sometimes. Accept Them Anyway.

Idea #5: Others will not approve. Carry on without approval.

Idea #4: The world is unjust. Live there anyway.

Idea#3: To live is to confront adversity. But to be alive is to have limitless resilience. 

Idea#2: Life is risky. Live anyway.

Idea#1: Be curious. Learn what you can, but hold lightly to your truths.

 

The World is Unjust. Live There Anyway.

Part Four of the Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life.

Life requires you to accept that the world is often an unfair and unjust place.  Despite injustice, a poorly-designed society, the existence of ill-informed people, and destructive movements, you can live well in the world. The secret to doing so is to focus on your own choices and what you can control.  You do not need total control of the world around you or the people in it, you just need a small sphere of influence—a zone around you in which you can act. This zone includes everything you can do, every life that you can affect, every resource or institution you can call on, every person you can ask for help, and every movement you can lend your strength to.

One human being can do quite a bit of good. I know not everyone feels that way—injustice or unfair treatment may have reduced your sphere of influence from what it might have been, but you have a sphere of control none-the-less—even if that sphere is no bigger than a jail cell. And it’s within that sphere that you have to work to achieve your goals, to make your life better, to accomplish good, or to create what happiness you can. 

How To Use This Idea:

Continually divide problems into what you can and cannot control.  Here is a handy rule of thumb: If you can’t influence, it’s not your problem to solve.  Accept the state of everything that is outside your control and focus on what you can change.

The Fine Print:

Now, I am not saying that we should enable the world to be unjust, or to give up our efforts to make the world a better place. If there is something you can do to make the world a better place, then that is within your sphere of influence. So you don’t have to accept it, you can address it! But what I am saying is that you should not squander your energy on what is outside your influence.

Also, keep in mind that acceptance is not the same the advocating or endorsing. I accept that there is racism in the world and that for the time being, a world beyond racism is likely out of reach. But I don’t endorse it. I don’t support it. And if some little bit of it creeps into my circle of influence then it’s my job to confront it.

What This Will Help You Avoid:

Helplessness and exhaustion. The demand that we must live in a world without injustice and where everything is fair will sap all of your energy. It’s also incredibly unrealistic. All of the 107,602,707,791 people who have ever lived have had to endure living in an unfair and mostly unjust world. And for nearly all of those people, the world was savagely more unfair and unjust than our world.  Despite the contemporary injustices we face, we live in a veritable golden age of peace, prosperity, and technology that would have made our ancestors weep in awe. And yet all of those humans that came before you found a way to live out their lives—and I’d wager that most of them were able to find some way to create at least a little bit of good within their sphere of influence.

But even if you disagree with my assertion that the world is fairer and more just than ever before, that doesn’t change the crux of my argument. Even if it’s not—and even it is is considerably more unfair for you than it is for most, you can still live well and use all of your ability to affect change to create good in the world.

What This Idea Will Help You Gain:

Dedication. Giving up the idea that the world must be just will help you focus your attention on what you can do to make the world a better place. You can tend to the little patch of earth that is your Sphere of Influence. Care for what you find there. Foster growth. Make your tiny world a better place, and trust that all over the world, other people are doing the same.

This blog post draws heavily on REBT psychology (and the work of Albert Ellis) as well as ancient Stoic philosophy.

Next: Other’s Will Not Approve. Carry On Without Approval.

The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (So Far)

Idea #11: You Can Do Good Work or Seek Perfection, But You Can’t Do Both

Idea #10: Your Path Will Not Be Easy. But Ease is Not Required.

Idea #9: Emotions are not your guide. Without reason they will lead you astray

Idea #8: You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings.

Idea #7: Whenever it seems that other’s must change, accept that they don’t.

Idea #6: People Suck Sometimes. Accept Them Anyway.

Idea #5: Others will not approve. Carry on without approval.

Idea #4: The world is unjust. Live there anyway.

Idea#3: To live is to confront adversity. But to be alive is to have limitless resilience. 

Idea#2: Life is risky. Live anyway.

Idea#1: Be curious. Learn what you can, but hold lightly to your truths.

Limitless Resilience

Part three of the twelveideas that can change your life

To live is to confront adversity. But to be alive is to have limitless resilience.

Resilience is your birthright. But resilience is not like a potion in a jar that you can run out of in the moment of need.  Rather, our resilience flows from an endless source, greater than all the typical misfortunes that fill a lifetime.   If it is called for, it will come, in equal measure to the task at hand. If you must know pain, grief, sorrow, fear, or anger, then you will find that it is within your ability to endure all that you must experience. These things come from the mind, and the mind will not create more sorrow than it can withstand.

But, if is this true, why then do we at times feel overwhelmed? We feel overwhelmed when we assume a situation is worse than it is—when we exaggerate its severity. The resilience we find is equal to the task at hand—the task as it really is—not to the catastrophe we are inventing in our mind. Resilience results from clear perception and a measured assessment of reality.  Do not be too quick to declare your current challenge a crisis. If you call something a crisis, you will make it one.  It is far more likely that the mishaps you face will be moderate in intensity. Label them as such. And it it really is a crisis? You can endure that too.

2017-06-25 07.53.01 pm.pngAvoid declaring that you, “just can’t take this” because you can. Much of our anxiety results from believing that we are fragile things, on the verge of collapse (death, imminent mental breakdown, universal disdain, or spontaneous human combustion).  None of these things are going to happen. Your psyche is simply not that fragile—unless of course, you convince yourself that it is.

THE FINE PRINT:

Am I saying you will always be able to solve every problem? No. Surely not. We humans are limited in what we can do and change. Resilience is not omnipotence. Having resilience does not mean you will always have success, won’t be impoverished, or that your body will not eventually succumb to its mortality. But what I am saying is that disappointment, sadness, and anxiety are not going to destroy you. You may still be left in a very unfortunate situation—but if so your human spirit will not fail you.

Another important caveat is that your human resilience does not show up until it is needed. So if you’re imagining some future tragedy, don’t be surprised if you can’t fathom getting through it. You can’t cope with something that hasn’t happened yet.  You might be able to come up with a contingency plan—but that is not the same thing as coping. Planning comes from your intellect. Resilience comes from a deeper place. So if you find yourself confronting the specter of something horrible that may or may not come to pass, remind yourself: “That is not reality. At this point, it is just a scary story. If that does happen I will deal with it just like I have dealt with many challenges in my life. But I don’t have to cope with something that hasn’t happened. I only need to know that if I need it, my resilience will be there.”

WHAT THIS IDEA WILL HELP YOU AVOID:

If you accept that you, as a human being, are resilient enough to face whatever befalls you, then you will avoid secondary anxiety—the most problematic of all forms of anxiety. Our natural (primary) anxiety is not truly a problem. It is just a part of life. The type of anxiety that cripples us is the anticipation of anxiety (the fear of future fear). That is why a belief in your own resilience is so important—it would effectively eliminate secondary anxiety. Yes, you may become anxious but if you already know that you will be able to withstand it—that you are stronger than your anxiety then the battle is already won.

WHAT THIS IDEA WILL HELP YOU GAIN:

Determination. As we work towards our goals and strive to live according to our values, we will face setbacks and heartache. But knowing that when we do face these things we will be able to endure them allows us to take more risks and open ourselves up to new experiences.

Let me know what you think.  Comment here.

Next: Part Four: The World is Unjust. Live There Anyway.

Life is Risky. Live anyway.

Part 2 of the twelve ideas that can change your life.

You do not need to have certainty or guarantees in order to live in the world. You can tolerate uncertainty. In fact you must tolerate uncertainty, because to avoid doing so is to shrink and wither. But the good news is that facing life’s challenges head-on is the surest way to live a life of more pleasure and less pain. Of course, for brief moments, you might be able to find relief by avoiding. But at what cost? Doing so just lets you live under the yoke of tomorrow’s fear and face the same painful decision again. Avoidance guarantees that, over time, you will miss out on a great many opportunities. It’s simply not possible to find success, love, happiness, or even peace of mind without subjecting yourself to uncertainties.

In a nutshell: Accepting that you will need to tolerate uncertainty and confront your problems directly saves you from the pain of the ongoing cycle of fear and avoidance and allows you to enjoy more of your life.

THE FINE PRINT:

Now, I am not saying that you should take every risky option that comes your way. This is not an excuse for reckless behavior. Reckless behavior occurs when you can control the level of risk and you choose not to. That has nothing to do with tolerating uncertainty. Of course at times you will decide that certain risks are not worth taking because there is not enough potential benefit—that’s fine. But when you know what the right move is for yourself, make peace with whatever uncertainties come with it and commit to the path.

I am also not saying that you need to preserve the unknown. If it is within your power to reduce the uncertainty—to find the answers to your questions—then do it! It’s only when there is no practical way to reduce uncertainty that you need to tolerate it.

So allow the unknown to be there. Don’t hide from it. Don’t fill in the gaps with the worst possible outcomes, like drawing sea monsters at the edge of the map. It might be useful to consider worst-case scenarios, but that’s not the same thing as assuming that the worst will (certainly) happen. Don’t pretend you can see the future. Instead, humbly acknowledge that there are limits to what you can predict and control.

WHAT THIS IDEA WILL HELP YOU AVOID:

In a word, stagnation. Being intolerant of uncertainty will lead to you doing less and less—to beingless and less. This is because anxiety spreads and avoidance once indulged becomes addictive. Why? Because when you give into your fear and avoid something that was important, your anxiety level drops (at least in the moment) and this feels good. But once the pattern of responding to anxiety with flight has taken hold, we will be tempted to avoid more and more situations. But it’s never too late to break this pattern. Remember there is no reason to avoid anxiety. It’s not pleasant but it has never and will never truly harm you. So avoid the avoidance and in time you will experience less anxiety overall.

WHAT THIS IDEA WILL HELP YOU GAIN:

Confronting challenges will make you drastically more effective. It will allow you to become a member of the community of doers—people living according to their values and pursuing their goals. Tolerating uncertainty gives you freedom of movement. It puts you on the path that you want to follow. Tolerating uncertainty makes it possible for you to live the life you want to live.

Next: Idea #3: Limitless Resilience

The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (so far)

Idea #11: You Can Do Good Work or Seek Perfection, But You Can’t Do Both

Idea #10: Your Path Will Not Be Easy. But Ease is Not Required.

Idea #9: Emotions are not your guide. Without reason they will lead you astray

Idea #8: You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings.

Idea #7: Whenever it seems that other’s must change, accept that they don’t.

Idea #6: People Suck Sometimes. Accept Them Anyway.

Idea #5: Others will not approve. Carry on without approval.

Idea #4: The world is unjust. Live there anyway.

Idea#3: To live is to confront adversity. But to be alive is to have limitless resilience. 

Idea#2: Life is risky. Live anyway.

Idea#1: Be curious. Learn what you can, but hold lightly to your truths.

 

 

The Principle of Curiosity: Part one of the 12 ideas that can change your life

Cognitive Therapists use a tool called the Unhelpful Thinking Styles to point out common flaws in human thinking—the kinds of errors that can lead to us feeling miserable.  I’ve noticed that not everyone takes to learning these ideas. It is a bit like a physician studying gruesome diseases in order to understand health.  I wonder if some people would get better use out of learning them as positive statements—as healthy beliefs rather than dysfunctional ones.

So is it possible to create a list of very powerful ideas that could could create positive effects in our lives? Could we identify ways of thinking that prevent negative emotions rather than offer relief from them after they have already occurred? I believe we can. By reversing some of of the unhelpful thinking styles, drawing on the work of Albert Ellis, and throwing in a dash of ancient philosophy I think we can derive a set of potent and positive ideas.  I call these the Twelve Helpful Thinking Styles.

In subsequent blog posts I will be introducing all them. Today I will cover the first, an idea that pertains to our relationship with the vast and awesomely complex universe we find ourselves in.

1. The Principle of Curiosity

Be curious. Learn what you can of the world, but hold lightly to your truths, being ready to discard them if new evidence is found.

Be humble with regard to reality. Seek to understand the world as it really is, but avoid rigidity in your thinking. Avoid concluding that your understanding of anything is perfect, flawless or complete. There is always more to learn.

The world around us is awesome and complex. You could spend your whole life learning the intricacies of one small facet of one tiny corner of the globe. Wonder at this marvelous arrangement. How much better is this than living in a universe that was so easily understood there would be no cause for curiosity or investigation?

You do not need to understand every aspect of the world to live a good life within it. Our understanding of the world around us will always be limited, but that is not a bad thing. We can use what we know to improve our lives, but we don’t need to cling to any truth as dogma. As we find new, helpful information and improved ways of being, doing, and thinking, we can let the old ways go. All evaluations and generalizations should be seen as tentative hypotheses rather than solid facts.  Be ready to make adjustments when new information is provided.

In some ways this first thinking style is the most important because without it, the ideas that follow will never take hold. After all, it is theold ways of thinking that have led to whatever problems you are facing now. Being a more effective, happier, less stressed person cannot occur without curiosity and flexible thinking. If you are locked into believing what you have always believed, you will also be locked into being what you have always been. Even in Cognitive Therapy, the client cannot progress unless they are willing to change the thoughts and beliefs that have been holding them back. Without a willingness to consider what it would be like to think a different way—without the spark of curiosity—we would all be stuck exactly where weare.

What this idea will help you avoid: 

All humans are prone to engage in motivated reasoning—the tendency to start with a preconceived notion, ignore information that doesn’t go along with it, and manufacture (or cherry-pick) details that seem to support it. But we don’t only do this to defend our cherished beliefs, we also do it to justify the negative views we take of ourselves and others.  The nasty little words we equate ourselves with, the rigid rules that hold us back, and stubborn assumptions we make about others—these are all a product of being unwilling to consider the possibility that we might just be wrong about a few things.

What this idea will help you gain:

Curiosity over time yields knowledge. Knowledge collected patiently and carefully applied yields wisdom.  This is because flexible thinking will allow you to build an understanding of the world that will be closer to how it really is. You cannot effectively respond to the world without truly knowing it. This is what prevents us from navigating through our lives with an outdated and distorted map. Don’t confuse stubborn clinging to old views as any kind of strength. There is no weakness greater than fearing to know the world as it really is. There is no courage greater than being willing to know reality and embrace it in all its aspects.

Go to the next idea!

 

The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (so far)

Idea #11: You Can Do Good Work or Seek Perfection, But You Can’t Do Both

Idea #10: Your Path Will Not Be Easy. But Ease is Not Required.

Idea #9: Emotions are not your guide. Without reason they will lead you astray

Idea #8: You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings.

Idea #7: Whenever it seems that other’s must change, accept that they don’t.

Idea #6: People Suck Sometimes. Accept Them Anyway.

Idea #5: Others will not approve. Carry on without approval.

Idea #4: The world is unjust. Live there anyway.

Idea#3: To live is to confront adversity. But to be alive is to have limitless resilience. 

Idea#2: Life is risky. Live anyway.

Idea#1: Be curious. Learn what you can, but hold lightly to your truths.

 

Daily Flourish: Random Acts of Kindness

Occasionally we need a little break from our routines. That’s while from time to time I will be posting an installment called the ‘Daily Flourish’. These small tasks are designed to take about 10 or 15 minutes (certainly no longer than 30 minutes).  These are not instructional. They are not going change your life. But they are like the emotional equivalent of the 7th inning stretch. I might suggest a meditative exercise, an activity, a gesture, or just to think about something.  They’ll be something that introjects a different experience into your day that hopefully will be a pleasant or at least useful addition to your routine. You could think of these as the behavioral equivalent of the intermezzo course—just a little variety.  It’s my hope that they will be enjoyable, refreshing, and fun!

For today’s flourish, try to go out of your way to be kind to another person. What that means is up to you, but here are some suggestions.

  1. Call a person you haven’t been in touch with and see how they are.
  2. Offer to run an errand for someone.
  3. Offer to give your partner a neck-rub or massage.
  4.  Leave someone you care about a small note telling them how you feel about them. Alternatively place the note so that they will find it unexpectedly sometime in the future.
  5. Offer to take a friend or co-worker to lunch.
  6. Leave an extra-generous tip for a server.
  7. Pay for the person in line behind you for coffee (or pay for the car behind you at a toll or put money into a vending machine for the next person).
  8. Buy flowers for your partner for no reason.
  9. Leave a encouraging note or a small cash gift inside a self-help book at a bookstore.
  10. Send a card to a hospitalized child through cardsforhospitalizedkids.com or to a random person in the world through www.postcrossing.com

As you do these things just notice how you feel. It’s not necessary to feel any particularly way after doing this. Just accept whatever feelings come. But if you do notice a positive feeling, try to savor it. The point is not necessarily to feel good, but to experiment with behaving in a way that is in line with the values of caring for others or believing in the principle of altruism.

Before you do this action, predict how rewarding this task on a scale of 1 (not rewarding at all) to 10 (extremely rewarding).

Rewarding (Prediction)  ________(1-10)

After you have completed the action rate how rewarding it actually was.

Rewarding (Actual) ________(1-10)